"A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams at Theatre Buford February 15, 2019 - March 03, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: The Varsouviana of Broken Dreams
Where’s the shabby, claustrophobic quarters of Stanley and Stella Kowalski in Theatre Buford’s production of "A Streetcar Named Desire?" In Jamie Bullins’ scene design, the set is massive, with impossibly high and airy ceilings in the two rooms of their apartment. The staircase stage left leading to the upstairs neighbors’ features an outside balcony several feet below the level of this imaginary ceiling. While there is some faux-painted grime in the kitchen, the soaring walls of wide lath (painted in the bedroom stage right; wallpapered in the kitchen center left) almost give the feeling of a cathedral. An interesting angle in the raised floor extends over the downstage area, which is a step down, representing the wide-open street outside the apartment.
Ben Rawson’s lighting design is much more evocative than the set, even using an effect late in the play that finally makes some sense of the interstices between boards in the lath walls. Cody Evins’ sound design is almost ever-present, with background music wafting in almost non-stop from the French Quarter in New Orleans, with a mix heavy on "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and on the "Varsouviana" of Blanche’s memories. Chase Peacock and Jessica DeMaria are given composing credits, and their contribution (whatever it is) blends in smoothly. Sound effects of early-morning birdsong and of trains passing by are worked in nicely.
Costumes, designed by Linda Patterson, evoke the late 1940’s period of the piece, but can’t make trim Stephanie Friedman the "plump" Stella defined by the script or give Eric Lang any burliness as Mitch. The highlight of the costuming is perhaps the heavily embroidered Mexican outfit for the "flores para los muertos" character. Blanche’s outfits have variety and elegance.
Daniel May’s blocking uses the stage well, but his direction doesn’t add a lot to the script. The most telling directorial touch is having Stanley enter the apartment as a train passes by, overhear discussion about him, then make his way out silently to make an announced entrance after another train passes by. The look on Justin Walker’s face of hurt and sadness suggests a tenderness in Stanley that goes absolutely nowhere. The accents Mr. May has characters use can be distracting, and the overall impression is of actors having been forced to rely on their own resources to create their performances. Faux cigarette smoking (lighters hidden by hands as the unlit cigarettes stay unlit) doesn’t help the impression the production gives of being "off.
Courtney Patterson is quite good in her role (Blanche), as she is in everything, it seems. Stephanie Friedman too is terrific as Stella. Justin Walker is physically right for Stanley, but doesn’t have a lot of chemistry with either of his leading ladies. Eric Lang tries valiantly to play against type as Mitch, but doesn’t fully succeed in the attempt. The rest of the ensemble are fine, if generally unremarkable, with Emily McClain being a standout in the tiny role of the nurse. The fight choreography by Amelia Fischer and Connor Hammond seems a bit wan for the nurse, though, concentrating instead on a concurrent kitchen brawl among the poker players.
"A Streetcard Named Desire" (as it’s referred to at one point in the poorly-edited program) is a classic of the modern American stage. In Theatre Buford’s production, a lot of effort has been put into transitory design elements (sound and lighting), but their effectiveness is blunted by pedestrian direction and a giant white elephant of a set. Oh, for the days of Georgia Shakespeare, when Ms. Patterson would have been surrounded by a cohesive ensemble of actors (as in 2009’s "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," co-starring Daniel May).